Information icon

Northland is at COVID-19 ORANGE setting. Get information about our services during the protection framework settings.

Arrow icon

Summer swim spot survey starts 07 December

11 Nov 2020, 8:45 AM

Annual summer water quality tests will begin Monday, 07 December at some of Northland’s popular beaches, rivers and lakes.

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) testing looks for bacteria used to gauge the risks of contracting gastrointestinal and other infections while using beaches, rivers and lakes for swimming, water sports and other forms of recreation.

Justin Blaikie, who chairs the council’s Water and Land Working Party, says testing will start for the summer on Monday 07 December and run until Monday 08 March next year.

Hundreds of samples will be taken from 43 popular coastal sites and 17 freshwater locations across the region with results posted on the ‘Can I Swim Here?’ section on the national environmental reporting website LAWA – www.lawa.org.nz

Weekly results are also forwarded to the Whangarei, Far North and Kaipara District Councils, the Northland District Health Board (DHB) and other interested parties.

“We let the health board and relevant district council know of any results showing elevated bacterial levels, typically within 48 hours, and it’s their responsibility to take any further action needed,” Cr Blaikie says.

This can include further site investigations to establish the source of any contamination, public warnings not to swim or gather shellfish and putting up permanent warning signs at the worst sites.

“We’ve had quite a substantial review of the swimming sites this year compared to previous years.”

“The aim of the review was to make sure we’re monitoring the most popular areas where people actually swim and as a result, quite a few sites have been added to the programme, particularly in the Far North area.”

Councillor Blaikie says cost considerations mean the council can’t monitor every swimming sites in Northland and typically those areas that aren’t – or which had been dropped from the programme this year – were either used infrequently compared to others or had been officially deemed unsuitable for swimming.

“In the latter cases permanent health warning signs have already been installed, for instance Hatea at Whangarei Falls and Kerikeri at the Stone Store.”

Ricky Eyre, the regional council’s Coastal and Water Quality Field Operations Manager, says last summer 98% (622 out of 635) samples at coastal sites and 77% (151 out of 196) samples at freshwater sites over summer met national ‘guideline values’, meaning they were considered suitable for swimming.

“Results can vary quite substantially following rain which can carry run-off from land, although obviously that was less of an issue during last summer’s very dry conditions”.

Mr Eyre says the council advises people not to swim for two or three days after heavy rain, or if there are warning signs indicating unsafe water.

“As a rule of thumb, don’t swim if the water looks dirty or murky, smells or has scum on its surface and look out for or consider any potential sources of contamination, both nearby and upstream.”

Meanwhile, Mr Eyre says over summer natural events like large seaweed blooms at beaches or cyanobacteria blooms in rivers and lakes can also impact on swimming locations.

“These mostly occur when conditions are favourable, for instance with warm weather and calm conditions.”

He says while large amounts of seaweed can smell unpleasant as they rot on beaches, they’re generally harmless. In contrast, cyanobacteria blooms can pose a health risk and swimming in affected areas should be avoided.

Meanwhile, Cr Blaikie says any water quality concerns – including from people who believe they may have become ill through recreational contact with water – can be reported to council’s freephone 24/7 Environmental Hotline on (0800) 504 639.

Lyndell McGregor, Environmental Monitoring Officer - Mid North, takes a sample in the Kerikeri area at one of the new places that will be sampled as part of the regional council’s annual summer swim spot water quality testing programme.

Lyndell McGregor, Environmental Monitoring Officer - Mid North, takes a sample in the Kerikeri area at one of the new places that will be sampled as part of the regional council’s annual summer swim spot water quality testing programme.